Australian governments claim to be committed to improving transparency and democratic accountability. Yet they are increasingly contracting out research to external consultants, ‘think tanks’ and universities and the contractual relationships formed can, in fact, promote secrecy and undermine the goals of transparency and public scrutiny of government actions.
This article reports on a first-in-kind study of research contracts between Commonwealth and New South Wales Government entities and external providers. Our analysis reveals that ‘control clauses’ are prevalent: contractually, governments can insist on the rights to determine whether, when and how the results of research are publicly disseminated, to claim intellectual property rights over work produced, and to terminate contractual relationships at will and without cause.
These findings have troubling implications for government openness and accountability, for academic freedom when university researchers face restrictions on publication, and for evidence-informed policymaking. We propose solutions for proactive information disclosure to ensure that government transparency promises are realised in practice. We advocate for comprehensive public release of contract details and urge governments to publish the findings of contract research in an online repository.